Self-driving cars hold key to future highway: Google exec

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Self-driving vehicles hold the key to reducing traffic fatalities and will transform the automobile industry, a top Google executive predicted Tuesday.

Ray Kurzweil, an leading expert in artificial intelligence who joined Google in 2012, told the annual conference of the Society of Automotive Engineers that the rapidly declining cost of computing power and the advances in artificial intelligence will make autonomous driving a reality.

Kurzweil told the audience that autonomous driving, utilizing artificial intelligence, is definitely coming.

“The technology works. It’s not far away,” said Kurzweil, though he was not prepared to say just when self-driving cars will become a common sight.

“Google advised me to share with you they don’t know the answer…The technology is not going to be introduced until it’s ready.”

The need, and value of autonomous vehicles is clear, he told hundreds of the industry’s top engineers.

“Google cars have gone close to a million miles without incident,” he said.

“Some day an autonomous car will cause an accident and it will be big news. But while we’ve been talking several people have died from human drivers.”

Autonomous cars “are ultimately going to save millions of lives,” he said, noting that traffic accidents kill 1.2 million people worldwide a year now.

“They also provide more efficient use of roads and parking lots. There are a lot of benefits.”

But he said Google was not going to let its self-drive cars into the market “until they’re safe.”

“They have to be much more reliable than the technology they replace.”

The appearance of the original Google Car prototype touched off a race among the world’s automakers.

Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Nissan have set up engineering centers near Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley to focus on self-driving technologies.

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